Like rat in a hole
I recently met a gentleman at the Lake Baldwin VA Medical Center in Orlando, Florida. He was disheveled and appeared annoyed. The man was muttering to himself a little too loud. I sat down beside him and asked if I could help. “Why do you want to talk to me,” he asked? He looked over from his chair and glared. I told him, “You look like a nice person to talk to, and I haven’t had my morning chat.” He almost smiled! He said, “I am nobody. Homeless! No one talks to us. Like rats in a hole … What do you want,” Maybe deservedly a little snarky he demanded?
Navigating being a homeless Veteran with PTSD
The man also said, “I rode the bus all the way from Cocoa [Florida] for an appointment that the clinic says I don’t have today. Boy, that pisses me off – don’t they know how far I travel?” I asked him if the clinic could see him as a walk-in considering the mix-up. He looked at me with his eyes wide and piercing, “On yeah, they offered me walk-in, but there ain’t no mistake. I have the appointment card — back at my motel — just not here.” I paused, then said, “I see, what do you want to do for today?”
Communicating with someone who has PTSD can be tough
This man didn’t have much left other than his pride. I could see the way he looked at me and said, “I haven’t had no woman wait on me since I was 5-years old. Guess I don’t need one now. Anyway, last time I asked a woman for some legitimate help was here [at the information desk]. to call me a taxi, she just looked at me a little funny. I asked her if she would call the security guard. I know him!
She looked at me “FUNNY” again but still no call for a taxi. I looked at her “REAL FUNNY” and said, “If I throw something through this window here will you call the security guard for me. She looked at me “even funnier,” then said, “Nope, I will call the police, and you will be arrested.” He told me he walked out of the VA, but didn’t say where he went. I told him, “Good decision!” He said he didn’t want to go to jail again. I wish I knew why the woman at the information desk would not call this man a taxi. It was just one more way to dehumanize him.
PTSD often leads to prison
Another issue dragging this Veteran, and many others, down is the fact that he is not only homeless, but he is also a prior felon. He was released from prison five years ago. He said, “I didn’t do the crime I was charged with, but I did time.” Now, with a felony record, he is unable to find a job or housing.
This homeless Veteran is living in a motel at a weekly rate, which is terribly expensive. “There is barely enough left for food,” he said. “I go to the food banks routinely. This is not how I should have to live. Like a rat in a hole.” This veteran feels demoralized with no way to redeem his life. He gets money from the VA, but it is not enough to live on. He said that his pain is not being addressed by the VA, and admits to using marijuana which is another expense.
Expunging a record
In certain cases, there may be opportunities for a crime to be expunged from a Veterans record depending on the level of the infraction in a pre-trial program or an evaluation hearing after release. (For example see Vietnam Veterans Project) It depends on the crime. Many states agree. the Veterans who suffer from PTSD from combat trauma are more likely to be arrested for criminal behavior. Not so long ago, the worry was only that Vietnam Veterans were in prison or making prison a revolving door. With the US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, Veterans from those theatres are also showing up in prison.
Prison is a fundamental problem with dire consequences. It can last a lifetime if a Combat Veteran is impacted by war or war sits in prison crime while their leadership goes free. Plus, the hardest thing to understand is when Soldiers report war crime and they become victims.
There are so many reasons why veterans take their life. We need a better way to provide a safety net for Combat Veterans.
Here are some statistics concerning veterans homeless according to the National Coalition for Homelessness, specifically related to Veterans:
23% of the U.S. homeless population are Veterans
33% of the U.S. male homeless population are Veterans
47% of Vietnam Era Veterans are homeless 15% pre-Vietnam-Era Veterans are homeless
89% of incarcerated Veterans received Honorable Discharge
76% of Veterans experience alcohol, drug, or mental health problems
46% of incarcerated Veterans age 45 or older compared to 20% non-veterans
79% of incarcerated Veterans reside in central cities
67% of homeless veterans serve three or more years
33% of Veterans stationed in war zone have been incarcerateds
25% of Veterans have used VA Homeless Services
85% of homeless veterans completed high school/GED, compared to 56% of non-veterans
16% of incarcerated Veterans reside in suburban areas
5% of incarcerated Veterans reside in rural areas
46% of incarcerated Veterans are white males compared to 34% non-veterans
These statistics are astonishing. More effort must be directed towards providing Veterans with stable services within Veteran Hospitals or Veteran Centers. The President and Congress are too focused on privatization rather than the best interest of the needs of America’s Veterans.